New school for the arts considered Lexington Terrace institution for children discussed

Several options explored

Moving school from Mount Vernon is one possibility

July 20, 1996|By Marilyn McCraven and Holly Selby | Marilyn McCraven and Holly Selby,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Jean Thompson contributed to this article.

A new city public school for the arts could open on the site of the Lexington Terrace public housing project on the western edge of downtown in a couple of years if myriad details can be worked out and money found to pay for it, says Walter G. Amprey, the city superintendent of schools.

A committee has been meeting in recent weeks to discuss creating a school for children and possibly moving the renowned School for the Arts, a high school, from Mount Vernon to Lexington Terrace, Amprey said.

Committee members are conducting a feasibility study and are to meet again Aug. 8 to decide "whether we ought to speed ahead" with plans for the school, Amprey said Thursday. "We're just in the very preliminary discussion stages now."

Other committee members are Baltimore Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III, developer C. William Struever and Abell Foundation President Robert C. Embry Jr., Amprey said.

Some School for the Arts officials and supporters are reluctant to give up their location in the old Alcazar Hotel, but they generally support the creation of a lower school for the arts that they would control.

"We're certainly not anxious to get out of our Cathedral Street location. We just thought it was worth raising the questions," said Stanley Romanstein, director of the School for the Arts. "I want to be very clear about this: This idea came to us through the residents of Lexington Terrace. This is not our pitch to say, 'Oh, please, let us open a school at Lexington Terrace.' "

Romanstein said three residents of the Lexington Terrace area asked in April that the School for the Arts consider operating an elementary school for the arts there.

"It would not make any sense to move the School for the Arts from its building, which has been designed specifically to be a school for the arts," said Anthony M. Carey, chairman emeritus of the school's board of overseers and chairman of its foundation.

Another issue raised by the discussions is the future of Booker T. Washington Middle School, the current middle school for the arts. It was designed to be a sort of a preparatory school for the School for the Arts, but Amprey said the School for the Arts "needs a stronger feeder school."

The committee is exploring several ideas, ranging from a stand-alone elementary school with a curriculum focused on the arts to a single kindergarten-through-12th-grade school for the arts.

Officials say they also are considering operating a "lower" school, possibly a middle school for the arts, near the School for the Arts in Mount Vernon.

This is an ideal time to look at the matter, since the Lexington Terrace housing complex is to be demolished July 27, to be replaced by a $22.7 million development including rowhouses and business, educational and recreational amenities, Henson said.

Also on the site is the decrepit Lexington Terrace Elementary School. Plans call for it to be renovated and reopened in fall 1998. As part of the feasibility study, officials are considering whether the school should be torn down or renovated.

"When we looked at that building, our opinion was that it would require such extensive renovations that it would be better to implode it along with the other buildings. So, with Dan Henson's guidance, we entered into a feasibility study to see if it would make sense," Romanstein said.

A key question is where the financially strapped school system would get money for the necessary extensive renovation or construction. Typically, the city has used its own funds for design and planning, and state funds for school construction and capital repairs.

Baltimore's share of state school construction money for fiscal 1997 is $8.7 million, enough to repair only a few of the 65 schools listed in "poor" condition in the city schools' facilities master plan, which was released this month.

The School for the Arts is in "good" condition, according to that survey, but Amprey said it needs $2 million in improvements to make it "state of the art" with computers and other technology.

"We have to look at whether it is worth it to continue to try to do improvements to the current School for the Arts," said Amprey, noting that not all needed repairs are listed in the facilities report.

"We won't worry about where we'll find the money until we get a plan," Henson said.

School administrators have estimated the cost of giving a new school for the arts what it would need, including a cafeteria, dance rooms, performance centers and wiring for Internet access, Romanstein said.

Those rough figures have been passed to Struever Bros. Eccles and Rouse, which will draw up financial estimates, Amprey said.

The School for the Arts, created in 1980, is best known for graduating dancers, artists and musicians, but it also ranks among the city's best schools academically. Seniors who took the Scholastic Assessment Test in 1995 had the second-highest average score among city high schools. Their average verbal score was the city's highest.

The school attracts some students from surrounding counties, who pay tuition to attend.

Pub Date: 7/20/96

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